Shut Up & Dancing On at Twenty-Five

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal

The Dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet and guest artists take the stage at the Forrest Theater April 29 for one- night- only annual Shut Up & Dance benefit for MANNA for their 25th anniversary performance.

Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Ian Hussey says he has so many great memories being the producer director for the last five years and performing in, “around 13 of them.”  This year the event is in the middle of a heavy program cycle for Pennsylvania Ballet dancers.  It’s less than a week before the benefit and on this day, Hussey doesn’t have much time to reminisce. But if Ian was feeling rushed the Sunday before the event, he wasn’t showing it. He was all smiles, armed with a handwritten notebook and his laptop, orchestrating a whirlwind of activity in the Pennsylvania Ballet studios for a full weekend of rehearsals for the show’s dozen new dance pieces and brainstorming the show’s boffo opening number.

“This is the first time we’re doing the show without a week off from our company schedules.  Alexandra Hughes has been co-producer with Hussey for four years and he said he “couldn’t imagine doing it without her.”

Guest hosting for the second year is Martha Graham Cracker, aka Dito van Reigersberg, following up her multiple dance numbers, including a couple of hilarious dance numbers of her own and her unforgettable vocal to Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars.’

Martha, Hussey noted “definitely adds an element.” This year she will be accompanied by a string quartet from the Pennsylvania Ballet’s Orchestra and a youth group from Rock To the Future, a non-profit music organization in Kensington.  Last year’s benefit brought in a record $150,000 in a single night for MANNA and they hope to match or surpass this year.

The donations are a far cry from that legendary performance at the Trocadero in 1993 launched SU&Dance co-founders Michael Sheridan, Nick Stuccio, Leslie Carothers and Kelly Moriarty with dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet. The show raised approximately $1,200 the show went on despite the freezing conditions in the theater and the audiences loved it and embraced MANNA’s mission delivering meals to HIV-AIDS homebound patients at the height of AIDS epidemic.

Hussey said this year’s show will look back and “honoring MANNA and SU&Dance alumni, many who will be in the audience,” Hussey said. “During the show we will screen a 25th anniversary commemorative film produced by 20/20 Visual Arts Media.”

Shut Up & Dance has been an incubator and platform for dancer-choreographers to create and present new work and the benefit has become an incubator for nurturing new choreographic voices.

Corp de Ballet member Domenic Ballard was in one studio performing a beautifully athletic solo in the studio before the crush of rehearsals started. Ballard joins the choreographic line-up of this year’s company members presenting new work that includes company dancers Aaron Anker, Adrianna de Svastich, Russell Drucker, and Harrison Monaco. Guest choreographers participating this year will be Durante Verzola and Rock School choreographer Justin Allen and two longtime veterans of the show- choreographer Colby Damon and Brian Sanders.  “Colby’s set a high standard of excellence over the years and has an incredible choreographic voice, and really understands and cares about the mission of the show,” Hussey observed.

Brian Sanders’ JUNK will premiere “La Grande Fontaine” an excerpt of their show at Penn’s Landing next month. In an email, Sanders said that he is “thrilled to be part of this 25th anniversary, mostly because we share the same birthday – both with our first show at the Trocadero that year. It seems rare that the dance community in Philadelphia joins forces. Getting to be a part of SU&D over all the years is one of those special occasions and we are better for it”

However much choreographic variety there is, one classic has been danced at every performance-  Mikhail Fokine’s  ‘The Dying Swan’ scored to music by Camille Saint-Saëns. It has been danced by many of PABallet’s most celebrated ballerinas, and Hussey said his favorite so far “for so many different reasons, was Kelsey Hellebuyck last year. She was remarkable…she danced with so much heart and backstage, it was an emotional time for everybody, because she, along with many of the other dancers departing the company last year.”

This year promises to be just as memorable because Hussey asked PAB principal dancer Amy Aldridge to perform Dying Swan for the 25 Anniversary.  “Amy has been in many of the shows over the years, but has never performed Dying Swan, so we’re thrilled.”  Doubly poignant since Aldridge will be hanging up her toe shoes at the end of this season after 23 years with Pennsylvania Ballet.

And as for the opening number, Hussey admits that his favorite so far, was on the 20th Anniversary show “we recreated a bunch of the posters images from over the years” which was set appropriately to Madonna’s “Vogue.” “A few weeks ago I had a few dancers over my house and drinking wine, coming up with ideas for the opening number. It is hard to come up with a new idea every year. But sometimes they are hits and sometimes not, in the end it doesn’t matter, this is a forgiving audience and we’re all hear for the same reason, to have a wonderful night and raise money for MANNA.

– For tickets and complete event information- call 215.496.2662 or go online at http://www.mannapa.org/shut-up-and-dance/

– MANNA has new state of the art facilities on North 20th St, to prepare and deliver 95,000 meals per month free of charge to people with life-threatening illness in the Philadelphia and South New Jersey regions.

 

About Lewis J. Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

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